Brains of Aging Parents May Benefit from B12

October 10, 2016
Eggs are a good source of B12 - but a supplement may be better for some. (photo courtesy of Rawich/

Eggs are a good source of B12 – but a supplement may be better for some. (photo courtesy of Rawich/

A recent article in the New York Times suggests that aging parents, spouses, and other seniors may want to ensure that they are getting an adequate amount of B12 – and that their brains will thank them for it.

The Stomach

Ironically, according to Jane Brody writing in “Vitamin B12 as Protection for the Aging Brain,” the reason for supplementing with B12 may originate in the gut.

Animal proteins are among the best sources of B12, so including plenty of dairy, fish, and meat would seem to be all aging parents need to do to make sure they get plenty of B12. But not so fast! In many cases, the stomach is getting in the way of using that B12. As people age, the body is less efficient at digesting and processing the sources of B12, with the result that less B12 makes its way into the bloodstream. Doctors estimate that this problem affects up to 30% of people over the age of 50.

The Brain

This can potentially have consequences for aging parents, because much research suggests that B12 and brain function are linked. Some studies suggest that dementia and mental health issues can be linked to some extent to a deficiency in vitamin B12. One case study reports on a woman with severe mental health concerns whose issues were successfully treated by B12.

A European study of people with mild cognitive impairment who also had low B12 levels found that high doses of B12 had a positive result in this patient cohort.


While the studies do not mean that B12 is a cure-all or will prevent cognitive issues in all people, they do suggest a possible benefit for many.

The Times article further suggests that aging parents may be better off supplementing the B12 they get in their diet with synthetic B12 supplements. The reason is that the synthetic supplements don’t require the same digestive processes as “natural” B12 in order to access their effectiveness.

Aging parents may want to talk about B12 with their doctors to determine if supplementation would be appropriate for them.

Jason Sager

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